User login

Climate Change in New Zealand


Climate Change in New Zealand by Martha Savage
From Martha Savage, a member of the Scoping Group sub-committee of the Yearly Meeting Futures Committee
Dear All,
I went to the Ministry for the Environment's Engagement Meeting on Climate Change [in Wellington, on the 27th of February 2006.] I found it a bit disappointing. Although it was supposed to be directed to how to respond to climate change, there was only a small section on that - one slide. It basically said they would be studying it, and getting more reports later.
They also pointed out that it doesn't really matter how much we try to eliminate greenhouse gases, the earth is already on a path that will not be reversed quickly, so that there is going to be global climate change even if we suddenly stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow. And even 'just' abiding by the Kyoto agreement will not help. I thought they had some very good points about the need to not just look at the past, but to try to plan for how to respond when the inevitable change comes. But the questions were exclusively limited to how to get NZ compliant with the Kyoto protocol, and a lot were basically recriminations for why we weren't compliant now. I think there are plenty of groups concerned with that, and as is in our brief, I'm glad that our group is going to focus on what to do about the warming that will happen.
The major issues for NZ, as I recall them, were that warming will make it 15% wetter in the west and 15% dryer in the east, and there would be warmer temperatures, and then of course the sea level rise. It seems to me that the biggest issue for NZ policy is really what to do about sea level rises. Farmers are very smart and will undoubtedly be changing their crops to fit with the changing climate. It's cold enough here anyway so that a couple degrees warming will only make it a bit more comfortable here in Wellington and on the South Island, and maybe less comfortable in Northland. The issue of how the reservoirs used for electricity generation are affected will certainly need to be examined, but my feeling is that most of them are in the west and would therefore have more water if anything. On the other hand, I haven't checked that and perhaps one of you can correct me if I'm wrong.
But the response to sea level rise is more crucial, and it depends on how rapidly it rises. I think whatever happens, we should be pushing for better controls over development near coastlines, where erosion will surely increase. If predicted rises of 6 to 10 metres happen rapidly, then there will be a lot more drastic problems. One, as mentioned earlier, is absorbing refugees from Pacific Islands that will be disappearing. Of course, they won't just disappear slowly under a rise, but be more and more devastated after each big storm, so that there will be one or perhaps several 'turning points' for each island. Depending on the situation, the same 'turning point' is likely for several islands as large storms have a broad area. So there could be several countries needing help all at once. But of course we'll have the same kinds of problems with our own cities that are close to sea level - i.e. parts of all of our major cities. I think mostly we shouldn't have too much lo ss of life because it should be easy to move people to higher ground, but property loss will be a problem. We just need to look at New Orleans to see the future.
The most obvious course I see is that we need to be sure there's adequate emergency management funds, knowledge and co-ordination, both for our own country and to help other less wealthy countries. And in NZ, we should probably be trying to push for requirements for new developments to be on higher and higher ground. I think that would be very difficult politically though, and would also end up with the poorer people in the older, less expensive and more dangerous areas.
Anyway, I don't want to make this letter too long, so enough for these thoughts for now.